50 First Dates
Director : Peter Segal
Screenplay : George Wing
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2004
Stars : Adam Sandler (Henry Roth), Drew Barrymore (Lucy Whitmore), Rob Schneider (Ula), Sean Astin (Doug Whitmore), Lusia Strus (Alexa), Dan Aykroyd (Dr. Keats), Amy Hill (Sue), Allen Covert (Ten Second Tom), Blake Clark (Marlin Whitmore), Maya Rudolph (Stacy), Pomaika'i Brown (Nick)
50 First Dates, an affectionate, but often tonally awkward date movie, tries to have it both ways: earn tears and sniffling smiles from the sentimental and big guffaws from those who like vomit, penis, and gay jokes. The fact that is stars Adam Sandler is an immediate tip-off that the movie will be packed with plenty of subpar gross-out humor, but the fact that he is paired with Drew Barrymore, with whom he starred in The Wedding Singer (1998), hints that there might be some heart in there, as well.
Sandler stars as Henry Roth, an animal veterinarian who works at the Sea Life aquatic park in Hawaii. When he first meet him, he is mendacious lothario who wines, dines, and sleeps with pretty tourists and then gives them any number of outlandish excuses as to why he can never see them again. This all changes when he meets Lucy (Barrymore) at the Hukilau Cafe, where she is happily building a fort out of her waffles and he aids her by showing her how to use a toothpick to create a hinge for her door. As far as meet-cutes go, this one is pretty lame. But, Sandler and Barrymore have genuine chemistry (she may be the only actress to have chemistry with him - can you even remember the other actresses who have played opposite him?), and there is a great moment where they decide to meet again the next morning and catch each other doing a little victory dance.
It is not to be, however, because Henry learns that Lucy has no short-term memory. She was in an auto accident a year earlier, and since then she has been unable to remember anything after she goes to sleep. So, she wakes up every morning thinking it is the same Sunday before her accident, going about the same routine each day completely oblivious to the fact that a year has passed her by. This ruse is maintained by her well-meaning father (Blake Clark), who even goes so far as to have hundreds of the same newspaper printed up so she can read the paper every morning with going through the shock of realizing how much time has passed without her knowledge.
Ironically, Lucy would seem to be the perfect woman for Henry, a man who has perfected the art of the one-night stand. After all, what trait could possibly be better in a one-night stand than the inability to remember you the next morning? But, of course, Henry feels differently about Lucy - he falls for her and wants to do everything he can to make her life better, despite her disability. First-time screenwriter George Wing first has some fun with the premise, showing how Henry, Groundhog Day-style, attempts to meet Lucy day after day in different and increasingly bizarre ways (by the end, he's pretending to be a hog-tied kidnapping victim stranded by the side of the road).
But, soon enough, the story begins to focus on how Henry gets Lucy to fall in love with him day after day. This is accomplished by informing her via a cleverly edited videotape every morning of her situation. Logic would dictate that this would be a shocking way to start your day, one from which you probably wouldn't recover in time to have smoochy moments with some guy you don't even know who claims to be your boyfriend. But, alas, 50 First Dates takes place in the fantastical world of the romantic comedy, and the movie's easy charms allow us to skate right over the more implausible aspects of the story.
Unfortunately, 50 First Dates wants to have as much comedy as romance, so it constantly force-fits various unseemly gags into the story. The most egregious of these takes place in the opening 10 minutes, when Henry's gender-ambiguous German assistant Alexa (Lusia Strus) is coated with what must have been 100 gallons of walrus vomit. The rest of the comedy focuses primarily on two caricatured nimwits, Rob Schneider's Hawaiian idiot Ula, who is Henry's best friend, and Sean Astin's Doug, who is Lucy's lisping, steroid-taking brother. Both of these characters have their humorous moments, but they often feel more like distractions from the movie's more charming moments.
For an Adam Sandler vehicle, 50 First Dates is surprising in that it is ultimately more heart-warming than it is funny. The relationship between Henry and Lucy feels genuine, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the movie embrace a bittersweet kind of ending that will please the audience without resorting to some kind of hard-to-swallow miraculous recovery for Lucy. Instead, it shows how love can survive in any situation, even one that involves a lot of jokes about how big walrus penises can get.
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images Copyright ©2004 Columbia Pictures Inc.